Budapest: taking the Children’s Railway to the Buda Hills

Just outside the city of Budapest, Hungary, lies the Buda Hills. Covered with forest, dotted with attractions and criss-crossed by walking trails, this low mountain range is the perfect place to escape the city for some fresh air. Throw in spectacular panoramic views, a chair lift through the trees, and a scenic railway ran almost entirely by children, and you’ve got an unmissable daytrip.

The Children’s Railway (Gyermekvasút in Hungarian) is undoubtedly the most interesting way of seeing the Buda Hills. It can take you to all the area’s points of interest, from viewpoints to high ropes adventure parks, and treats passengers to beautiful views over the hills (especially from the open-air carriages used in summer)

The 11-kilometre-long, narrow-gauge line was built in the late 1940s to be operated by the communist scouts. The regime may have changed, but the railway remains operated by children today with 10 to 14-year-olds fulfilling all functions (under adult supervision) except driving the train. It makes an already very enjoyable train ride into a one-of-a-kind experience!

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Getting there

The Buda Hills and Children’s Railway are easy and cheap to get to using Budapest’s public transport. There are a few options from Széll Kálmán tér (on the M2 subway line):

  • take the the 61 tram to Varosmajor, where you get the Cogwheel Railway to the main station Széchenyi-hegy
  • take the 61 tram to Hűvösvölgy, where you can get straight onto the Children’s Railway
  • take the 158 bus to Zugligeti ut – Libego stop, where you can get the chairlift up to János-hegy, a mid-line stop and the highest point in the Buda Hills

Ticket prices

We found the ticketing system a bit confusing. For info, a ‘between stations’ ticket can get you from any station to any other station, except from the very first station to the very last (that requires an entire route ticket). It wasn’t clear whether you could use the same ‘entire route’ ticket again to complete the line if you got off somewhere in the middle, so we played it safe and bought new ‘between stations’ tickets each time we got on the train! The official prices are:

  • Adult – entire route: HUF 700 one way, HUF 1,400 return
  • Child – entire route: HUF 350 one way, HUF 700 return
  • Adult – between stations: HUF 500 one way, HUF 1,000 return
  • Child – between stations: HUF 300 one way, HUF 600 return

All aboard

We started our journey at Hűvösvölgy, buying our tickets from a boy of around 14 in the ticket office. We sat in an open carriage, which meant the wind was rather cold, but worth it for the fresh air and unobstructed views of the forested hills around and beneath us. A pair of younger children (in the cutest uniforms), probably aged around 10, came round the carriage validating tickets. We alighted at János-hegy (Janos Hill), to visit both Erzsébet-kilátó (Elizabeth Lookout) and the Libegő (chair lift).

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Elizabeth Lookout

From János-hegy station it’s a walk through the forest of about 10 minutes to the playground, picnic area and chair lift station, and a further five minutes uphill to reach Elizabeth Lookout tower (there are clear signposts to each).

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The tower itself is beautiful, appearing to me like a single turret of a fairytale fortress. Theres a cafe at the bottom if you’re hungry. It’s free to enter and climb up to each of the floors, which offer amazing panoramic views over the city and surrounding countryside. It’s possible to pick out the Danube and Parliament from this birds-eye-view, which really helps put the city and its surroundings into perspective.

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The chair lift

The chair lift takes you from the top of the hill to the bottom (ending up in Zugligeti ut), and up again if you buy a return. The ticket prices are:

  • Adult: HUF 850 one way, HUF 1,400 return
  • Children: HUF 550 one way, HUF 800 return

Its operating hours are:

  • May 15 – Sept 15: 9 am to 7 pm, daily
  • Sept 15 – May 15: 10 am to 3 pm, daily

I was a bit nervous about getting on – seeing as you just stand and wait for the moving chair to come up behind you! – but actually it’s much easier than it looks. And once you’re sat, and the staff have pulled the safety bar down, it’s a wonderfully tranquil and enjoyable ride as you gently sail down between and over the tree tops. Despite my general discomfort at being suspended high above the ground, the only time I panicked slightly was when it stopped for a minute on the way back up! (probably to allow someone to get on)

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If you’re not bothered about the Children’s Railway, you can catch a bus to Zugligeti ut and get the chairlift up (and down again) as an easy way to enjoy the Buda Hills’ stunning vistas.

Journey’s end

I loved the train so much that I couldn’t resist going on it again before we left. We re-boarded at János-hegy station (buying another ‘between stations’ ticket from a wandering uniformed child) and rode the train to Normafa, where we caught a bus back into Budapest.

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For more from Budapest, read about the city’s illustrated hostel and original ruin bar here.

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